Lawmakers are moving rapidly to bring relief and address problems caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

RALEIGH — State House committees on Tuesday began approving bills to help people, businesses, health care providers and others get through the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused.


As the General Assembly opened its annual session, legislation advanced to underwrite emergency small business loans, give tax relief to individuals and corporations; stockpile personal protective equipment; temporarily ease regulations on health care providers; help low-income people get tested and treated for COVID-19; and help K-12 and college students.


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Lawmakers plan to further consider these and other proposals through this week.


“These are unprecedented times for our state, but we prepared responsibly and will respond appropriately to support North Carolinians through the COVID-19 crisis,” House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement on the pending legislation.


Some of the things approved in the House Finance, Health and Education committees Tuesday include:


• Small business loans: The N.C. Golden LEAF Foundation would get $75 million to make emergency loans of as much as $50,000 to businesses of 100 or fewer full-time workers. This is similar to a $15 million loan program that the foundation recently provided — and which was quickly exhausted by heavy demand.


The term would be as long as 66 months, with an interest rate of 4% for the first six months and 5.5% for the rest of the term.


• Taxes: The deadline to file personal and corporate income tax returns without paying a penalty would be extended to July 15 from April 15. The legislation has penalty waivers and postponed deadlines for some other types of taxes.





• Medicaid: Low-income people who don’t have health insurance could be tested and treated for the coronavirus and COVID-19 under the Medicaid government health insurance program, even if they don’t qualify for Medicaid for other medical care.


• Schools: Various standardized testing requirements in kindergarten through 12th grades would be waived for the 2019-20 school year. Lawmakers want to offer two weeks of supplemental “jump start” instruction in August to students who need additional help before the new school year starts.


The public schools would be allowed to start the 2020-21 school year as early as Aug. 17. Current law mandates that school start later in August.


• Scholarships: College students using the NC Scholarship for Children of War Time Veterans would be given money to pay for an additional semester.


• Lawsuits: Health care providers whose services are affected by the COVID-19 emergency could not be sued for incidents that occur during the emergency unless there is gross negligence, reckless misconduct or intentional harm. Volunteer organizations would have similar immunity.


• Testing by dentists: Dentists would be allowed to test patients for the coronavirus.


• Study: The North Carolina Area Health Education Center would be directed to study issues affecting health care delivery and the health care workforce during a pandemic.


Staff writer Paul Woolverton can be reached at pwoolverton@fayobserver.com and 910-261-4710.